Regardless of my undying love for Young Adult literature, I’m still able to recognize the genre’s stereotypical flaws and pitfalls – most notably, the parents. The parents and their relationships with their children are often portrayed in an extremely unrealistic manner. I can guarantee that at age twelve I wasn’t praising my parents left and right or providing them with financial or relationship advice, so why does that seem to be the standard in young adult novels?
Overall, parents in young adult books seem to be questionably missing for the majority of the novel, setting few (if any) boundaries for their children that are poorly enforced at best. Their general irresponsibility and cluelessness as to their children’s whereabouts would probably be enough to send my own mother into cardiac arrest (or make her hair stand on end, at the very least). I just have never been able to fathom how much freedom teenagers in young adult novels were granted – their parents, for the most part, have no complaints with them hopping on their boyfriend’s motorcycle and going for a moonlit ride at 3am. While there may be justifiable reasons for parental absence in a portion of these novels, the majority of them never provide a reasonable explanation.
If you haven’t recognized this in your personal reading (or are simply struggling to remember a few books that fit this description), here are a few examples:
- Obsidian (Book #1 in the Lux Series): Katy spends the majority of her time alone due to her mother’s demanding job. Therefore, she has pretty much free run of the house and is able to come and go as she pleases…as well as invite over whomever she likes. While her mother eventually places some restrictions on her after finding a naked guy in her bed, her mother was relatively nonchalant, even after that…uncomfortable incident.
- Harry Potter Series: In light of the death of Harry’s biological parents, he is placed under the care of his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. As his legal guardians, they are required to care for him and look after his well-being, but they manage to perform the bare minimum. They are more than thrilled to rid of Harry when his Hogwarts letter arrived, and based upon the facts that his bedroom is initially the cupboard under the stairs and he was repeatedly bullied by his cousin, Dudley, Harry’s more than ready to leave Privet Drive.
- Twilight Saga: Where are Bella’s parents throughout the series? She actually gets on a plane and travels to an international country, and her father is none the wiser. Isn’t there an alarm bell going off or some mild shred of concern when your teenage daughter disappears for several days on end?
- The Hunger Games: After losing her father in a mining accident, Katniss is forced to fend for her family and secure adequate food after her mother begins to shut down. Katniss assumes full responsibility for household chores and looking after her younger sister, Prim. In her final moments with her family before departing for the Hunger Games (for the first time), she begs her mother to “snap out of it” and care for Prim in her absence. Katniss also pleads with Gale to ensure that her family remains fed and that basic necessities are fulfilled.
- Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have): When April’s parents decide to relocate out of state, she pleads to stay at her friend Vi’s house so that she can complete her junior year of high school without transferring mid-semester. Little do her parents know, Vi’s mother will be out of town for the remainder of the school year. Long story short, without any semblance of rules and a house all to themselves, things get a bit out of hand…on multiple occasions.
To put it into perspective, how many young adult novels would have been able to take place had the parents been present and potentially even strict? Very, very few. As the New York Times stated:
“The most sharply written and critically praised works reliably feature a mopey, inept, distracted or ready-for-rehab parent, suggesting that this has become a particularly resonant figure.”
Why has this become the norm in the Young Adult genre? Why are parents either never-present workaholics or emotionally/physically checked out? Is this a reflection of our modern-day culture?